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Image: Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Butch Vig
Chris Pizzello  /  AP
Krist Novoselic, left, and Dave Grohl, center, former members of the band Nirvana, pose with Butch Vig, producer of the band's landmark 1991 album "Nevermind," in Los Angeles on Sept. 6.
updated 9/22/2011 3:15:47 PM ET 2011-09-22T19:15:47

It's been 20 years since the release of Nirvana's "Nevermind." The album, which included cultural anthems like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are," marked the beginning of the alt-rock movement of the 1990s and transformed drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Krist Novoselic and singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain into the posterboys of Generation X, until Cobain's tragic suicide in 1994.

On a recent afternoon inside 606 Studio, the sprawling headquarters for Grohl's band Foo Fighters, Grohl and Novoselic, while slumped on a couch near the same soundboard that they used to record "Nevermind," reminisced with producer Butch Vig about how they made the album that forever changed their lives and what impact it had on the world.

Story: Why Nirvana's 'Nevermind' spoke to a generation

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of "Nevermind," which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, Universal is reissuing the remastered album Sept. 27 with various special editions. Bonus material includes obscure B-sides, alternate mixes, live recordings and video of the band's 1991 Halloween concert at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

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A limited super deluxe edition features rehearsal recordings captured on a boombox ("It was in the bottom of a box of stuff that was gonna get thrown out," Novoselic recalls) and the original unused "Nevermind" mixes that Vig hoarded until the group began planning for the album's anniversary last year.

AP: What was your a-ha moment when you realized that "Nevermind" had become bigger than you?

Grohl: I'd say "Saturday Night Live." Being asked to be on "SNL" was without a doubt that moment for me. That's when I thought, "Oh my God. We're one of THOSE bands now." Then, in the dressing room, that's when (expletive) "Weird Al" Yankovic calls and asks if he can do a parody of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." That was a weird weekend. That was it for me.

Novoselic: It was shocking to be famous. I bought a house to deal with it. Then, of course, there was Kurt, who was thrust into being the spokesman of a generation. That was hard for him. He had some personal things going on that were happening just as fast. He was in a whirlwind. Kurt didn't necessarily identify with Generation X or mainstream values.

AP: What was it like going back and listening to "Nevermind" after all these years?

Vig: It's still out there. It's omnipresent, but this is the first time I've listened to from a critical perspective. The remastering sounds great. The album holds up really well. It's timeless. I think part of that is because the songs are really good. The production isn't gimmicky. It's just bass, drums and guitar. There's not any sort of trendy sound.

Grohl: "Nevermind" represents more than just an album with music on it to me. It was a specific, exciting time in my life. Personally, my life is split by the release of that album. My entire life is pre-"Nevermind" and post-"Nevermind." When it came out, my whole (expletive) world was changed forever. There's something about the innocence of it all.

AP: How do you think music has changed since "Nevermind" was released?

Grohl: Honestly, if you look at what was going on back then, outside of technology, all of that stupid (expletive) that was going on is still going on today. You've got stupid shows on TV to make people famous so they can sell records. The top 10 is full of crap. It's the same (expletive). You've got all these rock bands trying to make it in a van somewhere.

Vig: With information moving so fast, the whole world has A.D.D. You only grab onto something for a second before you discard it. When "Nevermind" happened, it was still a slower time. That record really took off from a grass-roots level. The label printed something like 40,000 copies. Word of mouth was faster than the Geffen publicity machine could handle.

AP: How do you feel about the impact "Nevermind" had not just on music but on culture?

Grohl: I have this shut-off valve. When I start getting to that place where I consider the impact of the album, I just turn off because it's hard to imagine something so innocent and simple turning into something that's out of your hands. I think that album came out at a time when a lot of kids didn't have anything to believe in and Nivrana was entirely real.

Story: 12 unlikely covers of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'

Novoselic: I remember at the time when Nirvana was just breaking and we were still very idealistic about it. We thought, "Yeah, we're gonna change the world!" It's like when I first heard punk rock music and even hard rock music, it spoke to me, but then again, revolutions get co-opted, and it never really turns out the way you think it would turn out.

AP: If there was some rip in the space-time continuum, do you think you could have made "Nevermind" today?

Vig: I don't think it would sound the same. There's a feel on the record that you can't really manipulate. These days, I love computers and moving stuff around and (expletive) with the sound. I feel technology would somehow get in the way of the kind of record we made back then. I know it wouldn't make it better. It's impossible to imagine that happening now.

Grohl: With technology these days, we could have been one of those bands who recorded it by ourselves in a garage and uploaded it to YouTube and bypassed any of the conventional industry routes. Who knows? I know that if Krist and I went in that booth right now and recorded on that board, we could sound exactly the same. That's how simple the whole thing was.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Nirvana

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  1. Here we are now, entertain us ...

    The members of Nirvana, from left, singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl are photographed backstage at England's Reading Festival on Aug. 23, 1991. Originally from Aberdeen, Wash., the band was on the cusp of a worldwide explosion in popularity as part of the grunge explosion out of Seattle. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The almighty dollar

    Nirvana released "Nevermind," its second studio album, on Sept. 24, 1991. Driven by the popularity of the first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the hard-driving album went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide.

    Spencer Elden, the baby who appeared on the "Nevermind" cover, told MTV as a 17-year-old in 2008, "It's kind of creepy [to think] that that many people have seen me naked." (DGC Records) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pool of rock

    Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain pose for an underwater portrait during a shoot in a North Hollywood pool. (Kirk Weddle / © Kirk Weddle/Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Give him a lift

    Cobain surfs the crowd during a show in Frankfurt, Germany, in December 1991. "Nevermind" had entered the Billboard Top 40 and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a genuine hit as the band toured Europe. (Paul Bergen via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mainstream mindset

    As the grunge wave rippled across the music industry and the cultural landscape, Nirvana appeared on the April 1992 cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Cobain sent his own message about selling out with a T-shirt reading "Corporate magazines still suck." (Rolling Stone) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. An Axl to grind

    Cobain performs on stage with Nirvana at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 10, 1992. MTV wanted the band to play "Smells Like Teen Spirt," but Nirvana wanted to play a newer song -- "Rape Me." The two sides agreed that the band would play "Lithium" but Cobain opened the performance with the first few lines of "Rape Me" before changing gears.

    Also at the event, Cobain got into it with Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose, who challenged the Nirvana singer to a fight backstage after exhchanging words with Cobain's wife Courtney Love. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Baby makes three

    Cobain and Love, with daughter Frances Bean Cobain, attend the MTV Video Music Awards at Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, Calif., on Sept. 2, 1993.

    The night's big winner was another Seattle grunge band. Pearl Jam won four awards, including video of the year, for "Jeremy." (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Where did you sleep last night?

    Nirvana taped an episode of MTV's "Unplugged" series at Sony Studios in New York on Nov. 18, 1993. The band's set included six covers, including David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," as well as an appearance by the Meat Puppets for three songs.

    Cobain died on April 5, 1994, of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. He was 27.

    The album for the session was released in the wake of Cobain's suicide and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Always loud

    Cobain and Nirvana perform during the taping of MTV's "Live and Loud" production in Seattle on Dec. 13, 1993.

    The band had by then released its third studio album, "In Utero," and embarked on its first American tour in two years.

    Rolling Stone reviewer David Fricke gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and wrote, "In Utero is a lot of things -- brilliant, corrosive, enraged and thoughtful, most of them all at once. But more than anything, it's a triumph of the will." (Robert Sorbo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A band of his own

    Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, performing at the MTV Movie Awards on June 5, 2011, has gone on to find success of his own as the frontman for the band Foo Fighters. The band has released seven studio albums since forming in 1994. (Matt Sayles / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bucking the trends

    Novoselic, left, and Grohl, center, pose with Butch Vig, the producer of the Nirvana's "Nevermind," in Los Angeles on Sept. 6, 2011.

    After 20 years, "The album holds up really well. It's timeless," Vig told The Associated Press. "I think part of that is because the songs are really good. The production isn't gimmicky. It's just bass, drums and guitar. There's not any sort of trendy sound." (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pieces of rock history

    Nirvana artifacts are seen at the opening of "In Bloom: The Nirvana Exhibition," marking the 20th anniversary of the release of "Nevermind," at the Loading Bay Gallery in London on Sept. 13, 2011. (Samir Hussein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Come as you are, as you were

    A portrait of Cobain is seen at "In Bloom: The Nirvana Exhibition" at the Loading Bay Gallery in London on Sept. 13, 2011. (Samir Hussein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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